Abbot Mark's Homily for the Saint Anselm College 2019 Baccalaureate Mass
This is the homily given by Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B. on the occasion of the Saint Anselm College Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 2019.
A sincere and special welcome to all our guests and visitors today. If you live not too far away, know that we have the Eucharist, as well as times of monastic prayer each day in this abbey church, and you are always most welcome to come and join us.
Soon-to-be graduates, on this special day of yours, the Church, in her wisdom offers three readings – taken from the Acts of the Apostles, the Jewish Psalms, and St. John’s gospel. These readings are being proclaimed in parishes all around the world today, and prayed privately by millions of the faithful. But as the Devil once asked Jesus in the Gospel, our seniors (not that they are devils) might ask of these readings – “ ‘what have you to do with us?’, as we prepare to travel to and settle in new cities, undertake new jobs and challenges, embrace and welcome new people into your lives?” How is the Word of God, that is, how is Jesus Christ, speaking directly to the hearts of our seniors, and really to all of us?
Our graduates may have reflected, especially I might hope, those who have majored in English, that each reading suggests to us a different verb tense; they offer us a glimpse into the past, the present, and the future.
As our students learn in Intro to New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles was written by St. Luke who wanted to explain just what happened in the earliest years of our Church. Our first reading taken from Acts of the Apostles recounts St. Paul speaking in a synagogue in Antioch. St. Paul speaks of those events which we recalled exactly a month ago during Holy Week – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul is speaking not a month removed from these events, but more than 15 years after the crucifixion. He’s speaking of the past. This reading might suggest, and especially to our graduating seniors, the importance of looking back to certain past events and reflecting on the profound impact those events have had, and will continue to have on their lives.
What were the many events that brought all of you to this particular place, with these people, at this time? You might think of the parents who gave you the gift of life, the siblings and friends who shaped and influenced you, or the teachers and coaches who mentored you. Or August 27, 2015 may come to mind, that day when most of you moved into your first Saint Anselm residence hall. Perhaps you recall certain lectures that struck your mind or your emotions, or that certain professor that changed your way of looking at life. Do you remember the individual you were four years ago? Most importantly, through all of those memories and moments, can you look back and see the gentle, guiding hand of a God Who loves you? Can you, in faith, hear the voice of God calling you by name? Can you see how, through the joys and hopes, trials and sorrows, through the particular circumstances of your life, God has led you on the way to this moment, and shaped you into the person you are? St. Paul recognized it quite clearly when he said at one point, “by the grace of God I am what I am”. Believe by faith that God has shaped you here, and led you on this path, just as He led St. Paul.
The end of the first reading is repeated in the Psalm we heard sung just a few minutes ago - “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you” These words were written over 600 years before Christ’s birth and are, in fact, often used to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. Yet it has another level of truth because the words of Scripture are also written and intended for us. This is the phrase that God is saying to you and to each individual in this Church this afternoon: “You are my beloved child. I am, today, loving you into existence.” How can we respond with anything less than pure joy at hearing those words? We are loved. Today. Right now. As we are. Though imperfect, though sinners, God loves us now, not despite our fallen nature, but in our fallen nature.
Each year on our campus this weekend is always a time of great rejoicing. You are being celebrated for your years of hard work and dedication. This is always a time I enjoy because I am able to see our seniors not only as students, but as sons and daughters, as siblings, as nieces and nephews, and grandchildren. I am able to hear from dozens of parents, friends, and family members how proud they are, how much they love, how far they have travelled just to hear your name and see you walk across a stage.
You are being celebrated not just for receiving a diploma, and not simply for mastering a particular course of study. Rather, you have reached the point at which you can understand, appreciate, and navigate those larger questions in life. Every parent here, can tell you that you will never receive complete answers to what life sends your way, but our sincere hope is that you are able to ask the right questions, and analyze them carefully and thoughtfully. You have been given, through your education at Saint Anselm, the tools to help you succeed in a life well lived. It has been our obligation as educators at a Catholic college to offer you the best expression of our faith and to help you in seeking out and reflecting with profit on the most meaningful questions of your life. You likely all graduate sensing and facing more questions than those with which you began in the fall of 2015. But hopefully you are now better equipped than before to recognize the Truth, that is Christ, when you see Him, to accept the Truth, to cling to the Truth, and to live out the Truth at all times.
And so Saint Anselm College sends you forth, confident in your abilities. We quite ceremoniously nudge you from this ivory tower, knowing that you have all the tools you need to both face with skill and courage, the challenges of life, and to represent your alma mater well.
There is that question that most of you have been asked dozens of times since the beginning of your senior year – ‘what are you going to do after graduation?’ People take an interest in your answer because they know of your abilities to create positive change in all you undertake. They know you can serve with great skill in that small corner of the vineyard which God assigns you. They are interested in your life and how you choose to live that life.
But this question, “What will you be doing?” for many, raises the heart rate. It can inspire the fear of the unknown. But one only needs to listen to the words offered for your future that Christ proclaims this day in the Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me”. This faith, which God offers us as a gift, has the capacity to change your life and the lives of those who encounter you in a remarkable way. Faith in God will get you through the darkest days of life, and only make brighter the very best of the days ahead of you. A life shaped and touched by Christ transforms into a life of true joy and lasting peace. This life is not necessarily easy to find, but it is more than worth the effort of the search.
So what are you going to do? And far more importantly, who are you going to be? The lives you lead, the life you choose to lead, will be a reflection of many things, including your four years here at Saint Anselm. If we have succeeded in your education, in handing on to you the best we have to offer, We pray and hope and believe that you will walk in the right way, seeking the truth, and that you will truly live a good life, one which leads to life eternal.